Now, about that shared future…?

Christopher Lydon is doing an open source radio special on Northern Ireland. Specifically it was inspired by going to see Maire Jones’ one man play “A Night in November”, which is currently on tour in the US. The focus is sectarianism. This report of an eight year study of the ‘two Ardoynes’ by Pete Shirlow makes fascinating background reading.One commenter on OSR, Alib, cut and pasted this rough summary of some of the headline findings:

“The findings above would seem to suggest that fear of being attacked by the ‘other’ community is central in determining low levels of cross-community contact. However, a subjective reading of such information masks a series of relationships complicated by age, gender and intra-community threat. The interviews conducted after surveying produced a series of complex cultural and demographic positions.

Pensioners are those least likely to perceive the ‘other’ community as a menacing spatial formation.

Secondly, a small group of non-pensioners, who constituted 18% of interviewees, are nonsectarian, and like many pensioners do not believe that the ‘other’ community should be represented as a homogenous cabal intent upon harming them and their community.

Thirdly, 62% of interviewees were found to be tenaciously influenced by a highly subjective ethno-sectarian discourse.

Virtually all of the respondents of pensionable age within the Upper Ardoyne community, who are able bodied, use facilities within Ardoyne. Interviews among this group disclose that the majority are not afraid to enter ‘alien’ territory for four main reasons.

Social relationships, that existed prior to the contemporary conflict, have tended to endure and older people visit Ardoyne in order to maintain such friendships. Although, pensioners conceded that their communities had been victimised by sectarian violence it was also contended that their community had also been involved in transgressive sectarian behaviour. A fourth issue which emerged was that of religious conviction and a belief that it is immoral to judge whole communities as abnormal and inauspicious.

It is apparent that lived social histories, within which there has been an extensive form of cross-community linkage, are capable of diluting the rationale of sectarian sentiment, and as a result fear of the ‘other’ community is tempered by more experienced forms of cultural understanding.

Stronger and more sectarian attitudes were located among those, who comprised 86% of all respondents, aged between 18 and 55. No one within this group undertook, by choice, any form of inter-community linkage or visit to areas dominated by the ‘other’ religious group. Eighty two percent of respondents, within this group, stated that their failure to engage in cross-community activities was due to fear of attack by the ‘other’ community.

There were no observable differences in attitude that could be related to gender. For this group the experience of residential segregation was channelled through a framework of exclusive and sectarian representations and ideological ‘tradition’. Sectarianism is viewed not as a repressive relationship but as an articulatory process, which enshrines spatial segregation.

It would seem that there is something of a continuously (if temporal) reinforcing feedback loop between the segregated conditions people live in that the political ideology they find most compelling.

To illustrate this generational disjuncture, there are two verbatim quotes worth adding:

As noted by one elderly Protestant respondent:

I used to live down there (Ardoyne). My aul (old) friends are down there still. Me and the missus (wife) go down every night for a chat and sometimes even for a wee party. We all get on grand (well). They come up to us and we have the best of craic (fun). We shop down there as well. You go down, do a bit of shopping and meet your mates.

And then:

As noted by a pensioner from Ardoyne:

Look, I grew up with Protestants here in Ardoyne. I saw the Provies (IRA) bullying those people out. Now they say they didn’t do that. But I saw the bullies at it. There were (Protestant) families like the Agnews and Cavendishes who lived here. They were decent people. When my father died they were the ones who helped my mother the most. There wasn’t a bad bone in their bodies.
You get young ones now going on about Huns and Jaffa’s (derogatory names for Protestants). How do they know what they are like they have never met any (Protestants).

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty